There seems to be a new genre in literature. The movie Julie and Julia was based on one woman’s story of cooking her way through Julia Child’s cookbook and blogging on all that happened. The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs was published in 2008 and became a New York Times Best Seller. A Year of Biblical Womanhood was published in 2012 and is the same style of book, having much of the same success at the bookstores. I think it is safe to say we should expect more of these types of books to appear in the future.
Rachel Held Evans writes with humor, candor and with thoughtful consideration of the Scriptures. Her premise was to try to live according to the literal directives found in the Bible. She calls her husband “master;” she learns to cook and sew; she sends off for a computerized doll that simulates a newborn infant so she can practice motherhood. She tries to obey some of the Levitical laws about purity and she visits a monastery to spend some time in contemplative silence.
There are several moments that caused me to smile, and even laugh. Rachel is a clever writer and has the ability to paint creative mental pictures with her words. She takes on some of the traditional views of women in the church and she quotes, and questions, a couple of the popular pastors of our day. I thought Rachel worked hard to study and research what the Bible says on subjects like women in the church, submission, gentleness and my personal favorite, justice.
I think it is important to realize that A Year of Biblical Womanhood was written by a sincere and thoughtful person, who worked hard to research what she thought was important to her topics. At the same time, I think it is also important to note that Rachel Held Evans is not a theologian and her book should be considered to be her experience with Scripture as opposed to a theological source for biblical study.
I gained several new insights after reading the book. I loved her conclusion at the end. Rachel writes, “I think, at the surface, I was looking for a good story. And I certainly found one. But further down, in the deeper recesses of my heart and mind, I think I was looking for permission – permission to lead, permission to speak, permission to find my identity in something other than my roles, permission to be myself, permission to be a woman. What a surprise to reach the end of the year with the quiet and liberating certainty that I never had to ask for it. It had already been given.” I think that paragraph illustrates why Rachel wrote the book and the main lesson she was hoping to teach.
A lot of young women are questioning the traditional roles the church has valued, and sometimes imposed on women. Many people object to the idea that there is one “biblical” way for a Christian woman to spend her life. Some women do not want to marry and some married women do not want to be mothers. That does not mean their lives are “less biblical.” I think Rachel Held Evans did a good job addressing those issues and many others.
I recently reviewed A Year of Biblical Womanhood with a Christian book club. I shared with that group why I was glad to have read the book. It was an interesting read and often clever. I would probably not recommend this book as something for a serious study, but I do think it provided some good “thinking” points. A biblical study of the women in the Bible, reveals women like Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Rahab, Ruth, Hannah, Deborah, Mary, the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. A biblical woman cannot be defined or categorized. Deborah was a faithful judge and Rahab was a prostitute. Women in Scripture are as different as women are today.
My favorite picture of a “biblical woman” came from the description found in Proverbs 31:25: “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” Rachel Held Evans called the Proverbs 31 woman a “woman of valor.” A Year of Biblical Womanhood causes the reader to examine his or her witness to the world. Could it be that a “biblical woman” is simply a woman who is strong in the Lord and lives her life with dignity and character?
There is never going to be a list of rules that every woman will live under. The same is true for men. We are all individuals, called to a personal relationship with God. Everyone is called to live by the precepts found in Scripture and employ the Holy Spirit as our guide.
Strength, dignity and confidence in the future God has planned are the outward witnesses to biblical living – for all of God’s children.